Women’s Media Center project uses crowd-maps to locate rape during global conflict

Lys Anzia – WNN Breaking

Woman walks in an area reserved for widows only in Herat, Afghanistan
A woman walks in an area reserved for widows only in Herat, Afghanistan. Image: WMC/Monique Jaques

(WNN) New York, N.Y., UNITED STATES: “Rape is being used as a tool of war in Syria, and, in most cases, it is allegedly being carried out by government perpetrators,” says new findings from a live crowd-maps project highlighted by Women Under Siege, a new project by the U.S. New York based feminist organization WMC – Women’s Media Center.

In 81 separate reports Women Under Siege is working to combine data and findings to report on sexualized violence. The reports are based on data gathered between March 2011 – June 2012. What has been discovered is that women, girls, men and boys have faced sexual violence during 117 incidents that have been identified through crowd-maps and additional data provided by the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Closely analyzing the data were doctors, stop-violence activists and journalists who worked together over a three month period.

“Many more women, girls, men, and boys than 117 have been sexually assaulted, according to the crowdmap, but it’s impossible to tally up victims because many of the stories contain vague numbers,” says the report.

The detailed report also shows that the sexualized attacks appear to be widespread and not limited to one city.

Of the 117 incidents that were tracked under conflict, 80 percent of them include female victims with ages ranging from 7 to 46. Of those, 89 percent reported rape. 11 percent of those rape reports include information that the rapes occurred under detention that appears to have been used for the purposes of sexualized violence, torture and enslavement that has occurred for a period of longer than 24 hours.

The startling data also shows that 20 percent of women were allegedly killed during the sexualized violence or found dead after being violated.

“The data we have so far suggest sexualized violence is being used as a tool of war, although possibly haphazardly and not necessarily as an organized strategy,” said Dr. Karestan Koenen, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School and the lead epidemiologist on the mapping project. “These reports indicate that post-conflict intervention will need to address the consequences of sexualized violence for victims.”

In 42 percent of the incidents of sexualized violence against women that we found, the victims were allegedly attacked by multiple people at once, suggesting a disturbingly high rate of gang rape.

“The fact that a large portion of the alleged crimes involved multiple attackers indicates possible coordinated, orchestrated, or systematic violence without restraints on the behavior of government and other forces,” said Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, who added that the new data reveals an important snapshot of the scale of the horror.

A majority of the attacks sited have been committed by what appears to be government perpetrators. 61 percent with another 6 percent have appeared on crowd-maps with information pointing to violence that has been carried out by government as well as ‘shabiha’ forces (plainclothes militia). In all but one case of sexualized violence against men the perpetrators were reported to be working inside detention systems in the regions where the violence is occurring.

“This work done by the Women’s Media Center and its collaborators shows why it’s extraordinarily important that this research is done so that the media can tell the story to the whole world,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center.

“At last we are gaining ways of reporting what is happening in real time to real people on the ground, women and men. It’s a step toward bringing human rights into real life,” says WMC co-founder Gloria Steinem, who is also spearheading WMC’s Women Under Siege project.

WMC’s Women Under Siege project is currently being run by director Lauren Wolfe (on twitter @Wolfe321), an award-winning journalist who has written for numerous news publications ranging from The International Herald Tribune to CNN. Wolfe is also a former director and a current guest blogger for CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists,  where she posts often on the CPJ Journalist Security Blog, which focuses on global journalists and sexualized violence.

Working to make women and girls visible and powerful in the media, Women’s Media Center was founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem in 2005. WMC works as advocates using the power of media to monitor sexism wherever it exists in the media. In 2009 WMC acquired SheSource, an online “braintrust” of global women experts who speak on diverse leading topics of the day using their expert and female perspective.

To know more about WMC’s Women Under Siege project read Wolfe’s ongoing blog HERE.

Link HERE to track up-to-the-minute reports on sexualized violence in regions under conflict.


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